Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Strange Fascination

When we watched Double Indemnity on Wednesday, I couldn't help but hope that Phyllis Dietrichson and Walter Neff would get away with their crime. It was so well thought-out, so well planned that I wanted to see them succeed. That got me thinking about instances of other movies and television shows that deal with elaborate criminal schemes and elements of noir. I noticed that there are many, many shows and movies that are about true crime or are based on it.

One of the more recent movies that comes to mind is Zodiac, Hollywood's latest incarnation of the tale of the Zodiac killer. Though the film focuses more on the lives and careers of two men who obsessively hunt the serial killer over several years, the draw for me (and I assume most people) wasn't Robert Graysmith and Paul Avery. No, it was the idea of the Zodiac killer himself, a man who terrorized California for years and to this day remains unidentified. There have been dozens of television specials, movies, and books based on this sociopath, and I have no doubt that there are dozens more to come. There is something inherently fascinating about our culture's ambivalence toward cases such as the Zodiac. Obviously no one is rooting for the serial killer, but subconsciously I think there is a certain draw to the tale that would not be there if his identity were known. This is indicative of a darkness in all of us; there is something inexplicably intriguing about the deep-running taboo of cold-blooded murder.

Interestingly enough, noir during the 1940s and 50s was not only found in movies. Dark themes of violence and horror stories were also found in the entertainment medium of the comic book. Since the 1980s, comic noir has once again resurfaced, and this time looks like it is here to stay. One specific example of darkness in comics has recently been generating quite a bit of hype due to its upcoming film adaptation. I am talking about Watchmen, DC Comics 1980s series that is set in a gritty alternate reality where superheroes are not so super. Watchmen, from what I gather so far (I'm about halfway through the graphic novel) makes the point that superheroes are not always a good idea. Most of the characters have pretty major flaws and oftentimes use their status for personal gain. Characters like Edward Blake and Rorschach express a kind of gritty realism that shows us that the idea of the superhero is unrealistic and ultimately deeply flawed. Like in film noir, moral ambiguity surrounds all of the characters and keeps us from the delusion that there are supermen who can save the world. Depressing? Maybe, but knowing that the world is probably ultimately better off with plain old humans is kind of cool.


  1. Nice, Jules McCools! I need to read Watchmen--I've no real interest in comics, but I want to see that movie.

  2. Good reference to comics! You should check out some EC Comics from around then. The Watchmen really pays homage to them with the castaway comic sections.

  3. Two cheers for Watchmen! Woo!

    Why do you think we have such a fascination with the dark side of humanity? Is it because the majority of us do not truly associate with that side of life? Or do you think it is something as sinister as Neff's reasoning - that it's something we want to do all along?